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CHAPTER VI.: Of marriage, and the persons who may justifiably enter into that state. - William Godwin, Of Population. An Enquiry concerning the Power of Increase in the Numbers of Mankind 
Of Population. An Enquiry concerning the Power of Increase in the Numbers of Mankind, being an Answer to Mr. Malthus’s Essay on that Subject (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1820).
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Of marriage, and the persons who may justifiably enter into that state.
The world must be peopled.
Our examination of the practical doctrines of Mr. Malthus's work will be by no means complete, if we do not stop a little, seriously to examine, what it is that constitutes a fair “prospect of being able to support a familya ;” for the misery of all our author's reasonings upon human affairs is, that they are pictureless, and dwell entirely in abstractions and generalities. Yet this is a question of vital importance; for to the crime of marrying without this prospect, the author of the Essay on Population unpityingly awards a punishment, at the very description of which the heart of humanity sinks within our breast.
“Though to marry in this case,” says Mr. Malthus, “is in my opinion clearly an immoral act, yet it is not one which society can justly take upon itself to prevent or punish [how merciful!]; because the punishment provided for it by the laws of nature [no; by the laws of monopoly] falls directly and most severely upon the individual who commits the act. When Nature will govern and punish for us, it is a. very miserable ambition to wish to snatch the rod from her hands, and draw upon ourselves the odium of executioner. To the punishment of Nature therefore he should be left, the punishment of want. He has erred in the face of a most clear and precise warning [here society kindly came in to the aid of Nature], and can have no just reason to complain of any person but himself, when he feels the consequences of his error. All parish assistance should be denied him. He should be taught to know, that the laws of Nature, which are the laws of God, have doomed him and his family to suffer for disobeying their repeated admonitions; that he has no claim of right on society for the smallest portion of food, beyond that which his labour will fairly purchase [and employment for that purpose is often denied him]; and that, if he and his family are saved from feeling the natural consequences of his imprudence, he will owe it solely to the pity of some kind benefactor, to whom therefore he ought to be bound by the strongest ties of gratitudeb .”
To return to the question then,—What it is which gives a man a fair “prospect of being able to support a family,” and may so render his contracting marriage not wnat Mr. Malthus calls “an immoral act:” for be it observed it is as easy, upon the principles of the Essay on Population, for a poor man to do an immoral act, as it is difficult, not to say impossible, for a rich one. Indeed I believe, according to this doctrine, there can be no immoral act on the part of a rich man, except such against which he shall find a prohibition in Blackstone's Commentaries of the Laws of Englandc .
A fair “prospect of being able to support a family,” are words that run glibly off the tongue, and will pass without hesitation with many a rich man, when he comes to pronounce judgment on a poor one. But it is my cue to put in a plea for the poor, and “him that hath none to help him.”
For this purpose I have enquired respecting the wages given to the labouring hand in this country; and I am informed that the usual pay to a man employed in tillage is eighteen pence per day, and that the ordinary salary of an artisan is about twice as much.
Now, to begin with the peasant. Shall this man marry, or shall he not? I will suppose, that he is in perfect health, with a robust constitution; and that, as agriculture is not likely soon to go out of fashion, he may hope for tolerably regular employment. To give every advantage to my case, we will take for granted that the female on whom he has fixed his choice is as healthy as he, is sober, and shall be able, from her needle, or otherwise, to bring in something to increase the common stock. Yet nine shillings per week, with whatever addition may thus accrue, is but a scanty income, upon which to build a fair “prospect of being able to support a family.”
Mr. Malthus, if I understand him, would advise this man to wait, and save up something from his earnings, before he enters into the solemn engagement of matrimony. His yearly income is twenty-three pounds eight shillings. How much he can save out of this I do not exactly know. But I will suppose that, by patience and perseverance, he has saved a whole year's income, twenty-three pounds eight shillings: what is this in aid of a fair “prospect of being able to support a family?”
Perhaps Mr. Malthus means, that no peasant can many without being guilty of “an immoral act,” unless his father can give him an hundred or two hundred pounds to begin the world with. If this was his intention, I wish he had said so; as then we could have made some calculation of the number of persons who, upon the “principle of population,” are permitted to marry, as well of those who are condemned to lead a life of constrained celibacy, upon pain of being guilty of a heinous breach of the laws of morality.
To understand this question more perfectly, let us consider a little what marriage is, according to the most exact deductions that have yet been made of the laws of political economy. Every marriage, I will say, upon an average produces four children, some fewer, some none, some a much more considerable number. Shall he then be considered as having a fair “prospect of being able to support a family,” who takes for the basis of his calculation, himself, a wife, and four children? Oh, no: for in this lottery no fortune-teller has yet been found, who could infallibly foretel to each man his lot: it may be this man's lot to have twelve children or more. —Add to this uncertainty, the chances of sickness, and the thousand other casualties that await us in the darkness of the future.
Well: this man has drawn an unfortunate and overwhelming ticket; and I bring him to Mr. Malthus's tribunal for remedy. There he shall learn a most instructive lesson. He is told, “To the punishment of Nature we leave you, the punishment of want. You have erred in the face of a most clear and precise warning, and can have no just reason to complain of any person but yourself, now that you feel the consequences of your error. All parish assistance is to be denied you. You must be taught to know, that the laws of Nature, which are the laws of God, have doomed you and your family to suffer for disobeying their repeated admonitions.”
Perhaps the hand of private charity may afford some scanty aid to this unfortunate man and his family. If it does, all I can say is, that Mr. Malthus is no wise accountable for this heinous offence against the “principle of populationd .” His system, as I have fully shewn, teaches us, that private charity necessarily leads to the most pernicious consequences. Here then we have a man, who, because he did not listen to the warning three times repeated, is left, and “should be left,” with his family to the punishment of want. Why indeed should he listen? The words he hears have no meaning, and fall a brutum fulmen on his ear. No labouring peasant has a fair “prospect of being able to support a family.” Nay, I would add that, in Mr. Malthus's sense, no rich man, no nobleman, and no king has.
For, be it observed, the question is not here of a calculation of probabilities, or the doctrine of chances. The law of the Essay on Population is peremptory and absolute. It is like the laws of Draco, which were written in blood, and allowed of no mitigation. “All parish assistance is to be denied him. He has no claim of right on society for the smallest portion of food. To the punishment of Nature he should be left.” “They should not have families, without being able to support theme .” If he takes a ticket in a lottery in which there are nine hundred and ninety-nine prizes, and but one blank, yet his ticket may be that blank. And the law has no ears: he is to be left to his own resources; and Mr. Malthus calls out to every one to stand aloof, and see what God will do unto him.
But, without taking this extreme case, the poor man may presume that he shall be able to support four persons in a family, and he may have six, or twice six. He may presume that he shall have health, and sickness may be his lot. He may presume that he shall not break a leg or an arm. He may presume that he shall have constant employment. He may presume that he shall not be the father of a cripple or an idiot. What poor man does not know that marriage is preeminently and in every sense a lottery? It is all one. “All parish assistance is to be denied him. He has no claim of right on society for the smallest portion of food. To the punishment of Nature he and his family should be left. When Nature will govern and punish for us, it is a very miserable ambition to wish o snatch the rod from her hands. The laws of Nature, which are the laws of God, have doomed him and his family to suffer.”
Did he not hear the warning voice three times repeated? Has he not sinned against a “fair, distinct and precise notice?” Will then he or his children pretend after this, that, whatever happens, they have “a right to complain?” Mr. Malthus peremptorily denies it. Still further. He may presume that he shall live, and by his exertions form the principal support of his family. But he may die. The Essay on Population makes no provision for this. “They should not have families, without being able to support them.” And, as to his children, “a fair, distinct and precise notice” was given, two years or upwards before they were born, and therefore, though perishing with hunger, they “have no right to complain.” Suppose him a drunkard or a profligate, spending on his own vices that which should support his family. Society has nothing to do with that His wife may consider it as the proper return for her mistake in accepting his addresses; and his children for the crime of being born. It is “the punishment of Nature,” and they “have no right to complain.”
Certainly never was a theory given to the world, that breathed so total a disdain of the condition of man upon the face of the earth.
We will suppose however that a poor peasant marries. We will allow nine shillings a week for the produce of his labour, with some addition from the industry of his wife. That we may go as far as we can in vindication of his prudence, we will suppose that, out of his savings, he is enabled to commence house-keeping with a fortune of twenty-three pounds eight shillings in bank. This might have served him to buy a couple of cows; but he may not happen to live near a common, upon which he might feed them. That however will presently appear to be out of the question. Twenty-three pounds eight shillings is little enough in all conscience to furnish the inside of his habitation, and to supply a few of the plainest necessaries, without allowing him the hope of adding a peculium sub Jove pluvio.
Our old-fashioned ancestors were accustomed to admire the light heart of this man, who, trusting in the Providence of God, and the benevolence, if need were, of his richer neighbours, embarked himself cheerfully in the stormy sea of the world. Youth and a good constitution made the future appear gay and sunshiny before him. He knew that he lived in a country, which, though not so bountiful as Athensf , had yet taken care to make a legal provision for such of her sons as were overtaken by unforeseen distress. Twenty-three pounds eight shillings, under these circumstances, appeared a mine of wealth in the eyes of his good-natured patrons and friends.
Alas! our old-fashioned ancestors knew nothing of Mr. Malthus's doctrines, and had not dreamed of the Essay on Population. Lulled in the kindly sleep of a benevolent heart, they did not anticipate the twenty-third homily, to be read hereafter as the constant accompaniment of the bans of marriage.
Human life is an awful thing; and wisely did Solon pronounce, that we must never declare any man happy, till he is dead. They that have learned to sympathise in the vicissitudes of this sublunary scene, will know well how to compassionate a fellow-creature in distress. The great earl Mansfield is said to have had a constant foreboding in his mind, that he should die in a workhouse; and, if he had gone no farther than to believe this possible, no sober man would have blamed it as a weakness. In the chequered scene of our frail existence, “no man knoweth” what calamities await him. “The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”
Mr. Malthus's homily therefore is not framed to the state of man on earth. It is too much to say to the poor man, with his family starving about him: “To the punishment of Nature we leave you, the punishment of want. You must be taught to know [taught! how appropriate a won! to the wretch, whose eyes are glazed with famine, and his lips parched with lack of moisture] that her laws, which are the laws of God, have doomed you and your family to suffer for the immorality of your disobedience.” Indeed Mr. Malthus, whatever you may allege, I can never be brought to think, that it is a just admonition to this man to say: “You have no claim of right upon society for the smallest portion of food; and, if you and your family are saved from perishing, you will owe it solely to the pity of some kind benefactor,” which pity is a weakness, and, as the Essay on Population asserts, “almost invariably leads” to pernicious consequences.
In reality, if Mr. Malthus had fully considered the effect of his principles, and had then thought proper to speak out plainly, he would have told us in so many words, that no man had a right to marry, without being first in possession of a moderate independence. Two or three hundred pounds per annum legally secured to the parties and their heirs for ever, I should think might do. The adherents of the “principle of population” would not require that every married man in the community with his family should live entirely at his ease. I know that two or three hundreds per annum, nor indeed as many thousands, in the ups and downs of European life, would not fully secure their possessor against the chances of standing in need of the benevolence of his neighbours, nor even from coming with his family to the parish, but that that word is blotted out of the vocabulary of the disciples of the Essay on Population. But then, even at the worst, he has an advantage. I have often observed, in the advertisements addressed “to the charitable and humane,” what a nameless, charm there is, if the petitioner has seen better days, has fallen from a state that had been attended with every comfort, or is distantly allied to softie Sprig of nobility. In addition to this, the number of such petitioners are comparatively few, while the starving and inglorious peasants are so numerous, that the hand of “private benevolence” is tired out in the attempt to relieve them. Mr. Malthus himself too would, I conceive, pronounce this sort of liberality exempt from the least shadow of blame, as it would not “tend to the indiscriminate encouragement of marriage.”
It also deserves to be remarked, that if marriage were considered as a privilege reserved for the higher orders of the community, we should still upon the “principle of population” have enough of it. In following the speculations of Mr. Malthus, we should never lose sight of the geometrical ratio. If the present peasantry and labourers of England were wholly rooted out, we could on that basis easily calculate how soon the country at large would become fully as populous as at present. This would be a mode of thinning the numbers of mankind, very analogous to what was before mentioned of hoeing turnips, without the disadvantage of our having been obliged to have recourse to “every cause, which might in any degree contribute to shorten the natural duration of human life.” We should stop the rising generation, which was crowding into the “hall of existence” at so alarming a rate, before they reached the threshold. And then the new population, not to mention the genteel blood which would universally flow in their veins, would have read so instructive a lesson in the perishing of the old, that we might hope they would get on, not indeed with out vice and misery, but with somewhat a smaller portion of each than was required for their rude predecessors.
There is one view of the subject of this chapter too interesting to be entirely overlooked. If the ideas of Major Graunt, quoted in page 174, are true, nineteen in twenty of the males of mankind, if such had been the pleasure of the author of the universe, might have been deprived of the power of procreation, and even of the sexual appetite, without injury to the source of human population. Something like this is said to be the condition of the bee.—Sed Dis aliter visum. We live in a system, if not more favourable to the multiplication of mankind, at least more propitious to the cultivation of the affections of human nature. Upon the opposite system, the male would have been deprived of the larger portion of the pleasures of society, and the female would have been subjected to the degrading effects of polygamy. It plainly appears therefore that the order of the world tends, not barely to the natural effect that the human species should exist in certain numbers on the face of the earth, but to the moral end that, by the union of one man with one woman, the happiness of our race should be increased, and the moral character refined and exalted. This agrees with the doctrine of Christ and his apostles, that “Marriage is honourable in all.” Hence it is that are derived to us “the charities of father, son, and brother:” and hence it appears, as was said in another placea , that neither man nor woman has fulfilled the ends of their being, nor had a real experience of the privileges of human existence, without having entered into the ties, and participated in the delights of domestic life.
Let us then return at once, and return in earnest, to the long established and wholsome principles of policy and society on this subject, that it is one of the clearest duties of a citizen, to give birth to his like, and bring offspring to the state. Without this he is hardly a citizen: his children and his wife are pledges he gives to the public for his good behaviour; they are his securities, that he will truly enter into the feeling of a common interest, and be desirous of perpetuating and increasing the immunities and prosperity of his country from generation to generation. Sanguinis autem conjunctio et benevolentia devincit homines caritate: sed omnes omnium caritates patria una complexa est.
But if this duty is more peculiarly incumbent upon one order of society than upon another, it undoubtedly falls with greatest force upon that order which is most numerous, and which constitutes the basis of the community, upon that order which is necessary, while the others are merely ornamental, upon that body of men, who put their hands to the plough, or in other ways participate in the aggregate of labour and sweat by which the whole is sustained. Woe to the country, in which a man of this class cannot marry, without the prospect of forfeiting his erect and independent condition! Woe to the country, in which, when unforeseen adversity falls upon this man, he shall be told he has no claim of right to be supported and led in safety through his difficulties! We may be sure there is something diseased and perilous in the state of that community, where such a man shall not have a reasonable and just prospect of supporting a family, by the labour of his hands, and the exertion of his industry, though he begins the world with nothing. If he is disappointed in this, who is more worthy of the assistance of the friend of man?
I know but of two principal exceptions to the law which affirms generally that it is the duty of a citizen to seek to become a husband and a father.
First, the profligate should not marry. It is true, he should cease to be profligate. I would encourage him to all possible good purposes, and exhort him to enter steadily into the limits of sobriety and virtue. But I cannot think that he should make a wife and a family the subject for the trial of his crude resolutions. This is indeed the only pater familias in a well constituted and well organised society, not in the convulsion of any extraordinary change, who can have reason (exclusive of the case of a bad wife or evil-disposed children) to repent that he has chosen this honourable condition. Profligacy, particularly in the lower walks of life, is the great bane of the married state. When the husband or the wife forget the duties which they have vowed to discharge, or spend in drunkenness and dissipation the means that are required for the weal of the establishment, theirs is indeed an unhappy and ill-fated family.
The second sort of persons upon whom it may not be incumbent to marry, are those who by high qualities and endowments seem destined to be distinguished benefactors to their country or their species. No man can be completely a judge of his own talents previously to the experiment: but every man can tell whether he feels within him an impulse to devote himself to public exertions. If he does, he is justly entitled to attend to that impulse. A superior duty controls that which is common. He who has an arduous career to run, should come unincumbered into the field. How many instances may be found of such as would have achieved great things, and have resigned themselves to obscure and unremunerated pursuit, if they had had only themselves to provide for, and had not been burthened with the cares of a family! This remark applies particularly to the earlier division of human life. I do not blame the man vehemently, who breaks through this rule; he only does that to which, in the abstract, man is destined. But I cordially applaud him, who having received a higher destination, cheerfully abjures every indulgence that would obstruct his progress.
There are other exceptions, beside these two, of men to whom it ceases to be a duty to seek to become a husband and a father. But let this suffice. I am not writing a Ductor Dubitantium, or seeking to compile a body of Cases of Conscience.
[a]Essay on Population, Vol.III, p.180.
[b]Vol. III, p. 180.
[c]This is a mistake: I ought also to have excepted, “an act of private charity.”
[d]I am thoroughly aware that Mr. Malthus has several neat and well turned periods in favour of charity, under certain strict limitations. All I mear. to say is, that they are diametrically in opposition to the cardinal principles of his work.
[e]Vol. III, p. 199.
[f]See above p. 101.